Whilst often considered a social issue, promoting gender equality in the workplace is a key legal obligation that contributes to creating a fair, inclusive and successful workplace.
Employers can foster a workplace culture that supports equal opportunities, empowers its employees and breaks down societal barriers by understanding the concept of gender equality, complying with relevant legislation and implementing effective workplace systems.
What is Gender Equality?
Gender equality refers to equal rights, responsibilities, and opportunities for individuals regardless of their gender. In the workplace specifically, this involves the elimination of gender-based discrimination, bias, and stereotypes, and aims to create a level playing field where all employees are treated fairly and given equal opportunities for advancement and success.
Employers have a legal responsibility not to discriminate against employees. This includes sex discrimination which occurs when someone is treated less favourably based on their sex, gender identity, or marital status. Sex discrimination can manifest in various ways, including unfair hiring practices, unequal pay, a lack of career advancement opportunities, discriminatory policies or practices, and perceptions of a particular person’s capabilities based on their sex.
In Australia, women continue to face challenges in the workplace and in achieving equal representation in senior leadership positions. These challenges include many women experiencing gender pay gaps and encountering barriers to career progression. According to ABS data, the national gender pay gap on a base salary is 13% which means that on average, for every $1 men make, Australian women make 87 cents. This disparity hinders not only individual potential but also the overall success and diversity of organisations in Australia.
Legislation and Regulations
Legislation and governing regulations play a crucial role in promoting gender equality in the workplace. In Australia, the primary legislation addressing gender equality is the Sex Discrimination Act 1984.
This Act prohibits direct and indirect discrimination on the basis of sex, marital status, pregnancy, or potential pregnancy, and provides a framework for ensuring equal opportunities for men and women.
Other legislation, such as the Fair Work Act 2009, the Workplace Gender Equality Act 2012, and various state and territory laws, also contribute to promoting gender equality and preventing discrimination in the workplace.
Strategies to Promote Gender Equality
Implementing systems to promote gender equality requires a proactive and comprehensive approach from organisations and employers.
One of the first steps involved in achieving gender equality is to develop clear and robust policies that address discrimination and harassment. These policies should outline the organisation’s commitment to promoting equal opportunities, setting clear expectations for behaviour, and providing a mechanism for reporting and addressing grievances.
Businesses committed to gender equality should also conduct regular pay audits to identify and address any gender pay gaps within the organisation. This process is important to ensure that employees are compensated fairly for their work, regardless of their gender.
Gender equality can also be supported by implementing flexible work arrangements that foster inclusivity, support employees’ diverse needs and circumstances, and promote work-life balance. This includes options such as part-time work, job sharing, remote work, and flexible hours.
Businesses can foster inclusive leadership by promoting gender diversity in senior leadership positions and holding senior executives accountable for promoting gender equality. This can include encouraging leaders to champion equality, set examples, and actively participate in initiatives aimed at promoting gender diversity and inclusion.
Businesses should also establish mechanisms for employees to report any instances of discrimination, harassment, or inequality to leadership. A senior leader should have a responsibility to regularly monitor and review the progress being made towards gender equality goals, collect relevant data, and use metrics to identify areas for improvement and track progress over time.
Education and Awareness
Workplaces should conduct regular training and awareness programs to educate employees on gender equality, diversity, and inclusion. This can include workshops on unconscious bias, respectful workplace behaviour, and the importance of creating an inclusive culture. Diversity and inclusion programs can include initiatives such as mentoring and sponsorship programs, diversity recruitment strategies, and creating a supportive and inclusive work environment.
The goal of gender equality in the workplace is to provide people with access to equal opportunities, regardless of their gender. To achieve this and drive positive change to foster a fair and inclusive workplace, employers must understand their workplace obligations and implement policies to actively combat discrimination and inequality.
This is general information only and you should obtain professional advice relevant to your circumstances.